Matthew 19:1-12

1 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.

2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’

5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?

6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”

8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given:

12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.”

This account is also found in Mark 10:1-12.

Judea beyond the Jordan (v.1) — Peraea, east of the river. The events of this chapter took place during the Lord’s final journey to Jerusalem for His death.

The Lord responds (vs. 4-6) to the Pharisees’ question (v.3) by going back to Genesis 2:24 and showing God’s intent for marriage.

Have you not read (v.4) — They should have known the answer (and probably did, but didn’t want it).

The Mosaic Law permitted divorce when a wife proved faithless; but the Rabbinical interpreters after their wont disputed over this enactment. The school of Shammai, adhering to the letter of the Law, held that a wife should not be divorced except for unfaithfulness; whereas the school of Hillel, with a laxity very agreeable to the general inclination, allowed a husband to put away his wife “for every cause” — if he disliked her, if he fancied another woman more, if her cookery were not to his taste.

The Pharisees would force Jesus to line up with one side or the other of the theological factions and so alienate a part of the crowd. Or perhaps, knowing already what Jesus thought about such questions, they wished to bring Him again into direct conflict with Herod Antipas. That wicked ruler was living with Herodias in open adultery. John had denounced their sin and lost his own head. If they could get Jesus to denounce openly this Herod and the wicked Herodias, they might succeed in doing away with Him soon.

The Mosaic law really permitted divorce only for the cause of unfaithfulness, but the popular conception among the Jews at the time of Jesus was that of the Rabbinical interpreters of the school of Hillel. Woman had become a mere chattel of man, subject to his inhuman and cruel treatment. The Pharisees understood well that if Jesus took the side of Shammai or the stricter view of divorce, He would alienate a greater part of the multitude. — Pentecost, pages 354-355.

command (v.7) — Moses didn’t “command” divorce, he permitted (v.8) it.

hardness of your hearts (v.8) — Because the Israelites had disobeyed God’s law of marriage and had married Gentile wives, the line would have been corrupted. If the line were corrupted, Messiah could not come in Abraham’s line. It became necessary then to purify the nation to prevent the corruption of the line. There divorce was permitted. This principle is well illustrated in Ezra 10:2-3, 11-14. Christ thus showed that divorce was not a part of God’s original law of marriage but was introduced because of Israel’s disobedience to the law. Thus the uncleanness of Deuteronomy 24:1 had to do with a corrupted bloodline. — Pentecost, page 357.

sexual immorality (v.9) — Pentecost has an interesting take on this which I think is worth considering. It’s hard to say whether the passage leads to this conclusion because it’s hard to say whether this is what the Lord’s audience would have naturally understood, but in light of other teaching the Bible about divorce, it makes sense to me.

The Greek word translated “marital unfaithfulness” [sexual immorality in the NKJV] is not the word for adultery but is the general word for immorality. Christ was referring to the Jewish marriage customs of His day. Marriage was begun by drawing a legal contract between the father of a man and the father of a woman, pledging them to each other. This marriage contract was called a betrothal. The couple were called husband and wife by virtue of that marriage contract. The marriage itself was not completed until at least twelve months after the betrothal contract was drawn up. But they were still referred to as husband and wife. Such was the relationship between Joseph and Mary when the angel announced that Mary would conceive a child. The twelve-month waiting period was deemed necessary because of the low state of morals of that day. That period gave sufficient time to reveal whether the woman was pregnant when the contract was drawn up. The interval also allowed time to see if she would become pregnant by an unfaithful act after being joined by contract to her husband. If the wife proved to be immoral, the marriage need not be completed; the contract could be broken by a divorce. However, so binding was the betrothal contract that it could  be broken only by the husband appearing before the judges to accuse the woman of immorality. Thus the contract could be broken. Such was Joseph’s decision when he discovered Mary’s pregnancy (Matthew 1:19). It was in light of this context that Christ granted the exception (Matthew 19:9). If one who was betrothed to a wife found in the betrothal period that she was guilty of fornication, that is, that she was an immoral woman, the marriage need not be consummated; but it had to be dissolved by a divorce. Since the marriage had not been completed, the man was free to marry without becoming an adulterer. Thus Christ utterly repudiated the Pharisaic interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and He denied the right of divorce. He appealed to God’s original law of marriage by which a man and woman were inseparably united until that marriage was dissolved by death. Thus the only possibility of divorce allowed by Christ was a cancellation of a marriage contract during the Jewish betrothal period before the marriage had been completed. This evidently was the way the disciples understood our Lord’s instruction. They replied, “If this is the situation,” that is, if it is not possible for a man to put away his wife after marriage even though she proved to be an immoral and faithless wife, then “it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10).  Clearly the disciples saw no possibility of obtaining a divorce with divine approval after marriage had been completed. Because the disciples recognized the low state of society and since it was utterly repugnant to them to be inseparably united to a faithless wife, they concluded it was best not to marry at all. Such a conclusion would not have been drawn if they had understood Christ to permit divorce after marriage.— Pentecost, pages 357-358.

adultery (v.9)  — The Greek word translated “adultery” refers to the sin of a married individual against his partner. If divorce could dissolve a marriage, a remarriage could not be considered adultery. But since Christ proclaimed it to be adultery, the first marriage must be viewed as still standing in the sight of God. — Pentecost, page 357.

eunuch (v.12) — broadly, a man who doesn’t have sex. This can be because of a birth defect (first clause); because of surgery (second clause); or, by choice (third clause).

The Lord also spoke on divorce in Matthew 5:31-32. I have included a long quote by Stam in that post which is worth reading on this subject.

I believe a divorced person can find grace and forgiveness in Christ. I also believe, however, that divorce is wrong because it is a violation of God’s plan, and that no justification for it can be found in Scripture.

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